As you know, I’m all about hiking with dogs. I believe that almost any dog in good health can do it.
However, it IS true that not all dogs can go the same distance or over the same terrain.
If your dog has never been hiking before, you should start them slow on easier trails and work your way up to more difficult hikes.
Even dogs that love hiking and have been hiking for years have their limits though.
It’s important to know when your dog has had enough hiking for the day.
LAST UPDATED: January 21, 2023
Don’t Make My Mistake
Many years ago I made the mistake of pushing my Dachshund Chester too far on the trail.
I didn’t notice that he was getting tired and overheating.
I’ll admit that I knew way less about hiking with dogs back then.
It turns out that this is one of the most common newbie hiking mistakes.
I was too busy being proud that my 12 lb dog hiked almost 15 miles that day to notice that he was becoming exhausted.
I would like to say that was the last time that I accidentally let my dog’s push themselves too far. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
While the later incidents were never as bad as that first one, there were a few situations where I could have been a better hiking partner and pet parent.
Over the years, I’ve learned my lesson.
Now I am hyper-vigilant about making sure I’m meeting their needs.
Does that mean that I never make mistakes when hiking long distances with my dogs? No.
The point though is that I learn from them and do better next time.
Sometimes it takes making mistakes to learn where your dog’s limits are.
For example, they may seem totally fine on the trail but you notice they are sore and walk really stiff the next morning.
Or maybe, like happened with Gretel once, she was very enthusiastic on the trail but then started walking stiff and passed out from exhaustion when we got back to the car.
It’s through reading as much as I can about trail illnesses and injuries in dogs, and hiking with my dogs for 15 years, that I’ve learned to how much hiking is too much for my dogs.
Do Dogs Get Sore From Hiking?
Dogs can definitely get sore from hiking. The problem is that you might not know it.
Dogs are great at hiding pain. They may be sore, stiff, or uncomfortable and never show signs.
Your dog could push themselves so hard to keep up with you on the trail that they get sore or injure themselves.
When this gets extreme, you may see signs during your hike.
But your dog could also have sore muscles and joints after the hike.
It’s often more difficult to detect because one sign your dog is sore is that they sleep a lot, which most dogs do a lot of at home anyway.
You are also likely distracted with tasks at home and may be too focused on other things to notice your dog is acting sluggish, sighing more than usual, or quietly whining.
Signs Your Dog is Approaching Exhaustion:
The most important step in preventing an injury or illness when your dog is hiking is knowing their individual warning signs.
Every dog is different so it’s important to know your own dog.
However, there are some common signs your dog might be tired of hiking:
- Lagging behind – A dog may start out strong and fast on a hike and then naturally slow down when the pent-up energy has dissipated. But if your dog starts significantly lagging behind, or stopping to sniff everything, they may be trying to tell you they’re tired of hiking.
- Labored breathing – If your dog is “heaving” when it breathes, or if its breath doesn’t start to go back to normal after a 15 minute break, it’s probably had enough for the day.
- Your dog flops down on the trail – if your dog immediately lies down, and looks a little lethargic, as soon as you stop to take a break, it could be a sign of exhaustion
- Your dog licks a specific spot excessively – If your dog repeatedly a specific area during breaks, they may have an abrasion there. This could be caused by chafing from their collar, harness, jacket or they may have scraped the area on a rock or tree. It can also be a sign of muscle pain.
- Limping – your dog could be limping due to a crack or tear in their paw pad or but limping could also be a sign of a more serious injury like a pulled a muscle or tendon.
- A rapid heart rate (if it stays high after resting) and reddened gums can be an indicator of heat stroke.
- Shivering and breathing slow – A cold dog who is breathing slow and shallow, and seems to be in a stupor-like state, may have hypothermia. This is a common risk during winter but can also happen other times of the year.
If your dog shows more than one of these signs of exhaustion, it’s probably time to call it quits for the day (it definitely is if there are signs of heat stroke or hypothermia).
If my dog’s show even one of the more mild symptoms on this list, although I don’t take it as a sign we need to stop immediately, I start monitoring her very closely for additional signs.
It’s important to have a strategy, or carry an emergency dog sling or a small dog backpack carrier with you, so that you can evacuate your dog if they get to the point they can’t walk out on their own.
Dogs make great trail companions.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen many situations where the dog was being pushed to the point that it could cause them harm.
I often hear people say, “My dog will let me know when they’re tired.”
What they don’t understand is dogs will follow their people to the ends of the earth even if it kills them.
I’ve literally seen cases where dogs collapse because they’ve pushed themselves as far as they could possibly go and, sadly, a couple of those dogs died.
People stretch their physical abilities all of the time. That’s how you improve your fitness — through increasingly difficult challenges. The same is true for dogs.
But you want to start with easier hikes and and work your way up to bigger and bigger challenges to get them in shape.
The signs that a dog is being pushed too far are sometimes subtle. Almost never will a dog act like they’ve had enough.
Dogs have the tendency to go-go-go until they physically can’t anymore. It’s up to us, their people, to make sure they don’t overdo it.
Knowing how to identify your dog’s warning signs will help keep them safe and happy on the trails for years to come.
About the Author
Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.